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Parent groups, drowning, and writers

September 14, 2010

My son has started a new school. I made a tremendous effort to go to the first parent group meeting, but this might not have been the wisest use of my time as I was in the middle of writing the story of how (Percy) Shelley died. Mary, his wife, was waiting to hear if her husband’s boat had sunk (it had) and she was about to begin her almost thirty years of grieving. I had precisely four hours to try to finish this scene before teaching my first class for my course on genocide (yes, genocide). A very nice woman was listing all of the ways we could get involved — grandfriends day, parents’ group meetings, teas with the headmaster, etc, none of which I can do, and I felt increasingly guilty and increasingly anxious. Shelley was gasping. Mary was waiting. My students were packing their backpacks and I was listening to everything I can’t do at my son’s school. I hissed at the woman next to me, who is not someone I know very well, “Do you think it’s ok if I go now?” She looked startled, but is clearly a kind and polite person, “Of course,” she said. That was not enough for me, though. I had to explain why. “I’m writing a book on Mary Shelley,” I whispered, “and her husband is about to die.” The kind woman managed not to look more startled, but I could feel a frisson, the little fizz I get when I realize I have just over-stepped the normal. The people next to me who had overheard, also looked startled. Why didn’t I just say I had to go back to work? I spent the rest of the day feeling like an idiot. When I get so immersed, my ability to act like a normal person goes out the window. My friend Carolyn, also a writer, says that when you go to events for writers and their entourages, like award ceremonies, you can always tell the writers from the editors and the agents and the other supporters who are there. The writers are the ones who are a little off. Their clothes are all wrong; they eat too much, drink too much, talk too much. It’s like we’ve been let out of our cages. My theory is that after a day, a week, a year, even an hour of writing, I want to tell everyone where I’ve been. It’s like I’m Shackleton, back from the North Pole or the Arctic — where did he go? — “I’ve been so far away,” I want to say to the people I see, although I keep cropping up in the carpool line. The strange thing is when I do venture out, I assume everyone can tell what I am thinking, that it is obvious that I am thinking about Shelley drowning (Isn’t everyone?). Although why anyone would look at someone and think, “She is definitely thinking about Shelley’s boat sinking,” I don’t know. Today, I will not see another human being until dinner time, and then only fleetingly as my son is at his father’s tonight and is only stopping by to pick up some things. Maybe I am just lonely

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 12:28 pm

    I am a freak too. We can be freaks together. XX

  2. September 14, 2010 12:38 pm

    This makes me very happy. Nice to have company.

  3. Ruth permalink
    September 14, 2010 6:48 pm

    go for it, lady! I’ve been a freak of yet a different kind for years..and I’m scads older than either (ither) you or Dawn! Celebrate!! how dull to be thought of al even remotely normal. My new class have all learn that quickly!!

  4. September 14, 2010 7:09 pm

    not scads. we are the same, i believe — or just about.

  5. Lorryn Kinkaid permalink
    September 14, 2010 8:39 pm

    Yeah, well, if ever there was something to make you feel left of center, it would be hanging with parents at school things. Every day at drop off or pick up, I feel like the only one who didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. You are so spot on! Miss class and you and writing!

  6. September 14, 2010 9:06 pm

    I miss you! Please tell me you are writing — xo

  7. Michelle permalink
    September 17, 2010 10:29 am

    Charlotte, you can’t be so out of the normal if so many of us can commisserate with you! Maybe its the broader issue we share called “Imposters Syndrom, Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be”. If only those parents knew how you were contributing in other ways to your son’s life and to society they should have thanked you for coming at all!

  8. September 20, 2010 5:28 am

    Thank you so much for the quote. I am glad you took the time to type it for me. So often I feel l like a fraud — I am grateful for these words!

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